Male contraception may be close, but is it time to get excited?

A new male contraceptive in over a century is “on the cusp” of launching, according to Bloomberg reports.

The breakthrough, stuff not of Pfizer-esque pharma giants but of a university startup in rural India, has so far shown to be safe and effective. Only it’s yet to get the attention of drugmakers; so far only a non-profit US company has opted to take development of the technology abroad.

Developed by biomedical engineer Sujoy Guha, the polymer gel works by causing the membranes of the sperm to burst when they come into contact with it, due to the combination of positive and negative charges. This treatment is known as reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance (RISUG) and can be flushed out with another injection if a man wishes again to be fertile.

What does this mean for the throngs of hopeful women — and men — wanting to share the burden of contraception? Is it time to get our hopes up?

Big Pharma has previously made their intentions clear about male contraception. Robert McLachlan, who worked on a 2016 trial that was infamously halted due to side effects experienced by male participants notes that these big companies don’t feel there’s value in male contraception as an investment, while others note a distinct lack of non-middle-aged men in the industry.

Bloomberg reports that the new contraceptive could potentially win up to half of the market share for female contraception worldwide, which comes in at a cool $10 billion, as well as a share of money spent on condoms, which amounts to $3.2 billion spent globally per year.

Conceptually speaking, male contraception isn’t something that tends to go down well at board level. Why? The short answer seems to be that among cashed-up decision-makers, contraception is largely still seen as a woman’s problem.

We’ve been here before. Research into male contraception has been going on for decades but various developments have been halted for a variety of reasons: side effects, sperm counts not returning to normal in some instances, and a lack of interest by companies and organisations.

Alongside trials, consumers and activist groups have tried to spur development of and access to male contraception. In 2015, a crowdfunding campaign ran to fund male contraceptive research, that managed to raise $12k but fell short of the fundraising goal.

This research, run by non-profit the Male Contraception Initiative in collaboration with Stanford University, works by targeting a protein that is “virtually unique” to the testes, whose function appears essential to the production of sperm. Their solution works to block the function of this protein.

The group was hopeful that male contraceptives would be covered by Obamacare’s Affordable Care Act, but then Trump was voted in.

When it comes to the development of male contraception it seems the penny will drop only at the sight of more, and many, other pennies. Aaron Hamlin, executive director of the Male Contraceptive Initiative, says that a lack of funding is what’s holding back development of the drug:

Drug development is expensive. And if governments and philanthropists are interested in people being able to control their family sizes and futures, then they need to start taking funding for male contraceptive development seriously. The pill for women was funded practically single-handedly by philanthropist Katharine McCormick. So far, there has been no modern-day Katharine McCormick for the male pill

How to get those with deep pockets interested in male contraception?

Change the people who have deep pockets, change the mind of people with deep pockets, or shift the balance of power. Easy, right?

Mon

Mon is a firm feminist who believes in the power of language and good media to make change. An avid reader and arts buff, her interests lie in media representation and reportage of gender and sex.